This Week I have a guest blogger Vandana Mohal Dewan. As a parent and as a professional she is passionate about removing Gender Bias in our parenting and teaching.
Female Heroines For Our Girls!
By Vandana Mohal Dewan
Amongst the many ways I can introduce myself, one of the happiest and also one of the proudest way I do so is when I say I am a mother of two absolutely gorgeous kids. Of course this is a mother’s pride speaking!
My son Arjun is 11 and daughter Maahi is a 4 year old. Apart from the obvious difference of gender, the two are as different, to use a cliché, as chalk and cheese. While sonny boy is gentle, sweet, adjusting, easy going, sporty, deep thinking, empathetic, emotional, just and adjusting; Maahi on the other hand is head strong, competitive, loving, strong, hardy, feisty and fearless. I, obviously, love both of them, although honestly Maahi due to her head strong nature, does drive me up the wall leading me to do Google searches about at what age I can put her in Military school, so that they can make her more malleable, or make a competent soldier out of her since all her traits are complementary to what a good military officer is expected to have!
Having said that I feel extremely happy that my daughter is the way she is. I want her to be a tough kid, because unfortunately she has inherited a world where females have to be quite tough to survive and hold their own. They have no other option but to excel and beat the boys at everything, to be able to get an equal place in this world.
But, I wonder sometimes how will my daughter and other girls really achieve this. I say this because when I look around, I see a complete dearth of female role models. What I see on the idiot-box, I think a very apt definition of the TV, are soaps that have pretty, decked up women, plotting revenge on someone, while shedding onion-cutting-induced tears amongst the assortment of the colourful pots and pans in the well-lit kitchen. They do all this while being subservient to their male partners, observing fasts and pandering to all their whims. Equality of gender just does not figure in the soap-world. This of course is the Hindi telly; the Western soaps are too risky; the content is too sexualised for young kids! Movies too portray women as mere showpieces, with a few exceptions like a Mary Kom or a Queen.
Now if I look at animation films or even cartoons, again equality isn’t what I see. I see a pink-clad Minnie Mouse preening and blinking her heavily mascaraed eyes at Micky. The clubhouse is called Mickey Mouse clubhouse. So a boy is a hero. I look at Chota Bheem, where Chutki, once again clad in the ubiquitous pink and her beauty enhanced by some dark long eye lashes and pink lips, plays second fiddle to the male lead. Examine the hugely popular Harry Potter or Percy Jackson; the title itself conveys who is the lead and what is his gender. If we see Harry Potter, he is the hero, while Hermione Granger, despite being the sharpest “witch” still plays second fiddle to Potter and is the girlfriend of Ronald Weasley, a good-at-heart, yet a bumbling average bloke. Why on earth will someone like a Hermione fall for Ron, is beyond my comprehension?
If we look at fairy tales, most have a very strong theme of the damsel in distress waiting for her knight in shining armour to come rescue her so that she can finally live a happy life – Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow-white etc. Where female are the protagonists they aren’t positive, Goldilocks is a thief!
Look at how education is imparted to kids. When we teach children grammar somehow or the other, gender roles are clearly etched out and they do take root in the child’s mind. “My mother is cooking, My father is going to the office.” The father is always the tough guy, the most important person in the family while the mother is, well secondary.
Call it political correctness or adjusted gender–role representation, the two forces in our children’s lives -- their Mum and their Dad -- need to be seen playing more complementary roles. No one is better than the other, but the two combine to make a safe, secure and loving environment. Of course, here the dads can also pitch in playing the role of an equal partner, but well that's a topic for another article!
And this adjustment is required globally, not just India. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg in her book ‘Lean In’ captures some very touching aspects of this girl vs. boys or women vs. men roles as society sees them and as they exhibit socially. She makes an observation that when a little boy is aggressive, we say he knows his mind, but if a girl does so she is called pushy. And when they grow up, the same two people will be judged differently, the man will be called successful and knowing his mind, the woman “a bit political”, “too aggressive” or worse “not a team player”. The book is peppered with many such examples and the interesting thing the book throws up is that we women only a lot of times hold ourselves back and do not make enough efforts to realise our true potential and that's why we need to ‘Lean In’. This link captures more of these points http://ideas.time.com/2013/03/07/why-i-want-women-to-lean-in/
Females/young girls need to feel empowered. They are in desperate need to have their own “heroines”. While its alright that they see themselves as pretty princesses, just like my baby girl does, they should, however, not have a mental picture of themselves as that imprisoned princess, who needs to be rescued by a knight. They should mentally feel liberated and not bound. And if they do feel imprisoned, when they imagine a knight doing the rescuing act, they should be able to have a choice of the knight’s gender in their mindscape!
Children, particularly young girls, need to have more of Mary Koms as the HERO! I feel authors, particularly those who write for young children, and educators in general should attempt to show a balanced picture to all kids. We can possibly start by digging out stories of our own heroines, Rani Laxmibai, Razia Sultan, Laxmi Sahgal, Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams or even corporate honchos, singers, sportswomen, military officers someone like Wing Commander Pooja Thakur!
All humans begin making visual connects very early in life and if we are able to cast such strong female characters in popular literature, cinema and other art forms both boys and girls will picture the quality called heroism from a gender-neutral prism! And that possibly will a step in the direction of a more equal world for both our girls and boys!